When most people think of Mardi Gras in the U.S., they think of outlandish costumes, beaded necklaces, parades and one place: New Orleans. Outside the States, Mardi Gras (or Carnival) is usually limited to places like Venice or Rio de Janeiro.
But what are revelers to do if they can’t fit the Big Easy’s big prices into their budget or jet halfway around the world?
Luckily, there are other cities that host smaller, more manageable and more affordable Mardi Gras celebrations, where there are unforgettable experiences and great travel deals, even though the party is just around the corner. Here are some of my favorites:
1.) Mobile, Ala.
The celebration in Mobile has a longer history than the one in the French Quarter. Dating all the way back to 1703 – 15 years before New Orleans was even founded – the celebration in this Southern city is the oldest Mardi Gras festival in the U.S. And all of that tradition shows in the way Mobile greets the Lenten season. The parades begin a full month before the actual date of Mardi Gras – March 4 this year – making visit dates to Mobile extremely flexible and allowing for multiple possibilities when it comes to weekend visits. We don’t often talk about Alabama, or Mobile, but travelers are sure to find low hotel prices for Mardi Gras in this historic city.
Sample deal: $81 per night for a 3-star hotel in the West Mobile area
2.) St. Louis, Mo.
While St. Louis might not have the widespread appeal of New Orleans, it’s home to one of the biggest Mardi Gras celebrations in the U.S. And this Midwestern metropolis is also a great up-and-coming “sleeper” destination, which means it’s full of great events and entertainment options that come at a very reasonable price. Home to the historic French neighborhood of Soulard, St. Louis will offer a host of parades and events during the 2014 celebration, including rock concerts, bar crawls and Cajun cook-offs that are sure to please families and friends alike.
Sample deal: $58 per night for a 4-star hotel in the Downtown Saint Louis area
3.) Quebec City, Quebec
Every city on this list celebrates Mardi Gras in ways that are very steeped in tradition, but Quebec City offers one of the freshest twists on the holiday. While most of the quintessential Mardi Gras cities are relatively warm by March, this Canadian metropolis is just emerging from the colder temperatures. Billing its celebration as the “Quebec Winter Carnival,” Quebec City embraces the chill of the season with ice sculptures, snow sports and wintry parades that set the backdrop. While it’s certainly not the typical Mardi Gras fare, all of the best offerings of the holiday are present, with toboggans and ice castles and snowy fireworks displays dazzling the night in ways that few other cities can. Plus, March is shoulder season here, so travelers will be able to find affordable stays—even during the holiday.
Sample deal: $91 per night for a 4-star hotel in the downtown Quebec City area
4.) Viareggio, Italy
While Venice steals a good amount of the Italian spotlight when it comes to Mardi Gras celebrations, Viareggio is an absolute must-visit for travelers who want a wonderful rustic experience at an affordable price. Located in Italy’s Tuscany region, this coastal city is bathed in picturesque sepia tones by the March sun. In contrast with the American Mardi Gras celebrations, the festivities here are much more traditionalist, featuring paper masks of famous figures, dancing in the streets and colorful Tuscan garb. In addition to enjoying Mardi Gras, visitors can take a side trip to a world-famous city just 30 minutes south—Pisa. What’s more, Pisa is offering some incredible hotel deals of its own, including sub-$100 prices on 5-star hotels.
Sample deal: $87 per night for a 4-star hotel in the Viareggio area
5.) Nice, France
If Mobile impressed you with the rich history of its Mardi Gras celebration, then the festivities of Nice are sure to surprise you. This is one of the oldest Carnival events in the world, with records dating all the way back to 1294, and the celebration goes from mid-February through Fat Tuesday. And though Carnival brings annual crowds to the coastal city, we’re still seeing great deals. In fact, travelers can get a 4-star room for less than $100 a night. Each year’s celebration in Nice has a unique theme, and this year it’s “The King of Gastronomy.” Expect to see lots of food-related floats and costumes in addition to thousands of performers marching through the streets. Other famous spectacles include the “Battle of Flowers,” where street vendors sell flora in bulk, and the burning of King Carnival, a spectacular fireworks show that marks the end of the event.
Sample deal: $77 per night for a 4-star hotel in the Old Town – Port – Acropolis Congress Center area
Hotel sample rates are based on searches made on Hotwire.com on 2/11/14 for stays 3/3 – 3/5/14.
Henrik Kjellberg is the president of the Hotwire Group. Every month he provides FoxNews.com readers travel information, tips and advice to help them plan a fun, affordable trip.